“Desistential” Psychoanalysis


The deconstruction of Jacques Derrida is unthinkable without psychoanalysis and psychoanalysis has become unthinkable without Derrida.  Derrida’s analyses of logocentric metaphysics, his theorizations of writing, différance and the trace, the archive, and desistance are indebted to Freud’s discovery of the unconscious and its processes.  Conversely, a deconstructive reading of Lacan’s discussion of “The Purloined Letter” and of a case in “The Direction of the Treatment” interrogates the position of the analyst and any fixed identification with one or another protagonist of either the fantastic or historical scene.

  1. Derrida and Psychoanalysis

In a text written at the beginning of the 1990’s, Jacques Derrida pressingly raises the following question: “Will we forget psychoanalysis?” He is indeed concerned with the symptoms of forgetting already at work in philosophical and in public opinion in general, not to mention what—also in the order of forgetting—can be observed in the psychoanalytic field itself and in its institutions:

A worry about what I’d call, vaguely, free-floatingly (but the thing itself is vague, it lives on being free-floating, without a fixed contour), the climate of opinion, the philosophical climate of opinion, the one we live in and the one which can give rise to philosophy’s weather reports. And what do the reports of this philosophical doxa tell us? That, among many philosophers and a certain “public opinion” (another vague and free-floating instance), psychoanalysis is no longer in fashion, having been excessively in fashion in the 60’s and 70’s, when it had pushed philosophy far away from the center, obliging philosophical discourse to reckon with a logic of the unconscious, at the risk of allowing its most basic certainties to be dislodged, at the risk of suffering the expropriation of its ground, its axioms, its norms and its language, in short of everything philosophers used to consider as philosophical reason, philosophical decision itself, at the risk, then, of suffering the expropriation of what–this reason very often associated with the consciousness of the subject or the ego, with freedom, autonomy–of what seemed also to guarantee the exercise of an authentic philosophical responsibility[2].

The decentering of consciousness carried out by Freud—consciousness is no longer master in its own house, it is largely submitted to obscure forces which it ignores—and the necessity that the history of reason itself be reinterpreted became genuinely significant in France, and later in Latin and Anglo-Saxon countries, only with the teachings of Lacan, who introduced this problematic in the literary and philosophical worlds. These worlds were seriously affected by it up to the point where one began to speak of the “end of philosophy.” Some, among whom Derrida—and for him most obviously and eminently—were already no longer thinking without psychoanalysis, while ceaselessly requiring of it that it “render reason.” Others were applying themselves to forget this troubling calling into question while attempting to restore a thought which was taking no account of Freudian advances. Let us continue reading:

What has happened, in the philosophical climate of opinion, if I may take the risk of characterizing it grossly and macroscopically, is that after a moment of intimidated anxiety, some philosophers have got a grip on themselves again. And today, in the climate of opinion, people are starting to behave as though it was nothing at all, as though nothing had happened, as though taking into account the event of psychoanalysis, a logic of the unconscious, of “unconscious concepts,” even, were no longer de rigueur, no longer even had a place in something like a history of reason: as if one could calmly continue the good old discourse of the Enlightenment, return to Kant, call us back to the ethical or juridical or political responsibility or the subject by restoring the authority of consciousness, of the ego, of the reflexive cogito, of an “I think” without pain or paradox; as if, in this moment of philosophical restoration that is in the air—for what is on the agenda, the agenda’s moral agenda, is a sort of shameful, botched restoration—as if it were a matter of flattening the supposed demands of reason into a discourse that is purely communicative, informational, smooth; as though, finally, it were again legitimate to accuse of obscurity or irrationalism anyone who complicates things a little by wondering about the reason of reason, about the history of the principle of reason or about the event—perhaps a traumatic one—constituted by something like psychoanalysis in reason’s relation to itself (Ibid.).

Psychoanalysis is what Derrida never forgets. He is bound to it, as to his mother tongue, by an originary, which does not mean univocal, bond. The one and the other resist him, just as he resists the one and the other. As with the mother tongue, the relation to the unconscious, which psychoanalysis brings into play, always remains both foreign and familiar. There is no relation to the unconscious which is not a tensed relation, one of resistance. But resistance is neither forgetting, nor negation. The unconscious can be approached only through resistance, as resistance is to psychoanalysis what air is to Kant’s dove. It is impossible to fly without the resistance of air.

As Geoffrey Bennington notes, the relations which Derrida’s thought entertains with psychoanalysis are original on several accounts. They are not only original in the sense in which they are properly his own [propres à lui], but also inasmuch as the relations which his work entertains with Freud or Lacan’s thought are singular with respect to the relations this very same work entertains with other thinkers.  Finally, they are so inasmuch as Derrida’s relations to Freud are originary, at the origin, from the outset; there would be, there is no Derrida without Freud.[3]

In return—and I shall insist mostly on this—the paths opened up by Derridean readings of Freud and Lacan’s work have become ones which psychoanalysis cannot forget or foreclose, unless it forget itself.

From the early deconstruction of logocentrism and the early analyses of the repression of writing as a mode of constitution of Western knowledge since Plato, Derrida finds a powerful ally in Freud. In spite of the fact that Freudian concepts belong to the history of metaphysics, and that they are forged right at the level [à même] of the linguistic matter which he inherits, Freud diverts and subverts their meaning. Such is the case, for example, with the numerous traditional oppositions. The unconscious is no longer simply outside consciousness. It lives as a parasite to consciousness. Pleasure is no longer quite plainly the opposite of displeasure. It can be experienced or felt as pain and pain as satisfaction. The subject seeks and finds itself in the object which is nt, in itself, its opposite. There is no pure present in relation to the past. The past is present in the present and the present always already past. The origin is already delayed, the delay is therefore originary.

The Freudian concept of Nachträglichkeit, deferred action or afterwardness, which calls into question the metaphysical concept of “presence to self,” is essential to the Derridean thought of the trace, of the deferred, of différance. This debt is explicitly acknowledged in “Freud and the scene of writing”:

That the present in general is not primal but, rather, reconstituted, that it is not the absolute, wholly living form which constitutes experience, that there is no purity of the living present—such is the theme, formidable for metaphysics, which Freud, in a conceptual scheme unequal to the thing itself, would have us pursue. This pursuit is doubtless the only one which is exhausted neither within metaphysics nor within science [my emphasis][4].

Derridean “différance” is not the delay which a consciousness grants itself or the adjournment of an act. It is originary in the sense in which it erases the myth of a present origin. Since Freud, memory is represented through differences of breaches [frayages] and there is no pure breaching without difference. The Freudian Verspätung, the à-retardement is irreducible not only in the inscription of subjective traces, but also in the history of culture and of the peoples, as Moses and Monotheism shows[5]. Psychical writing is such an originary production that writing in a literal sense [sens propre] is but a metaphor of it: “The unconscious text is already a weave of pure traces, differences in which meaning and force are united–a text nowhere present, consisting of archives which are always already transcriptions” (FSW, p. 211). Derrida always conceives of the possibility of writing, of the one which is considered to be the most conscious and effective one in the world “in terms of the labor of the writing which circulated like psychical energy between the unconscious and the conscious” (Ibid., p.212).

From the Freudian scene of the dream, Derrida retains two things which he never abandons: 1) the connivance between so-called phonetic writing and the logos dominated by the principle of non-contradiction, which a certain psychoanalysis and a certain linguistics renew; 2) the unstable frontier between the non-phonetic space of writing (even in “phonetic” writing) and the space of the scene of dreams. Hence, linkings which do not obey the linearity of logical time are possible. Derrida relies on Freud’s appeal to the pictogram, to the rebus, to the hieroglyph, to non-phonetic writing in general, for explaining the strange logico-temporal relations of the dream, when he has to take issue with Jacques Lacan’s phonologocentrism in his commentary of Edgar Poe’s The Purloined Letter. The general writing of dreams puts speech in its place: “It is with a graphematics still to come, rather than with a linguistics dominated by an ancient phonologism, that psychoanalysis sees itself as destined to collaborate” (Ibid., p. 220), and this, following what Freud literally recommends in “The Claims of Psychoanalysis to Scientific Interest” (1913):

[For] in what follows “speech” must be understood not merely to mean the expression of thought in words but to include the speech of gesture and every other method, such, for instance, as writing. . . . it is even more appropriate to compare dreams with a system of writing than with a language. In fact, the interpretation of dreams is completely analogous to the decipherment of an ancient pictographic script such as Egyptian hieroglyphs. . . . The ambiguity of various elements of dreams finds a parallel in these ancient systems of writing[6].

Derrida focuses on the three analogies of writing Freud develops for explaining the functioning of the psychical apparatus in his Notes upon a Mystic-Writing Pad: 1) the keeping [mise en réserve] and the indefinite preservation of traces as well as an always ever-ready receptive surface; 2) the possibility of the erasure of the traces on a first layer—perception-consciousness [Pcpt.-Cs.]—assimilated to the celluloid sheet of the Writing Pad, does in no way prevent the persistence of the traces on the wax, which is compared to the unconscious; 3) the temporality of writing: “temporality as spacing will be not only the horizontal discontinuity of a chain of signs, but also will be writing as the interruption and restoration of contact between the various depths of psychical levels: the remarkably heterogeneous temporal fabric of psychical work itself” [my emphasis] (Ibid., p. 225). As in the Mystic Pad, writing is erased each time the close contact between the paper receiving the excitation and the wax pad retaining the impression is interrupted.

Derrida notes that in making a scene of writing, Freud will have left the scene be redoubled, repeated and exposed in the scene [on the stage]. All of Derrida’s writings, his thought of writing, indeed the concept of architrace and of the erasure of the origin, bear the trace of his reading of Freud. Everything will have begun in duplication, in iterability. Meaning is always ambiguous, multiple and disseminated. This is, long before structuralism in psychoanalysis existed, the first elements of a critique of it, that is to say, of a critique of the primacy, indeed of the imperialism of the signifier and of the symbolic order as they were developed by Lacan.

From the study of the metaphoricity of writing for giving an account of the functioning of the psychical apparatus and from his discussion of Freud’s Writing Pad as a technical model for representing memory externally as an internal archivization, Derrida was anticipating on the new printing, reproductive, formalizing and archiving techniques, by supposing that the machine itself might begin increasingly to resemble memory. Henceforth, would the psychical apparatus be “better represented” or “affected differently” by so many new prostheses of the so-called live memory?[7]  Derrida comes back to this question twenty-eight years later and notes that “the technical structure of the archiving archive also determines the structure of the archivable content even in its very coming into existence and in its relationship to the future” (AF, p. 17). Now, psychoanalysis—its theory, its practice, its institution—is wholly a science of the archive and of the proper name, of a logic of hypomnesis which explains the lacunas of memory, of what archivizes memory by transforming it, or anarchivizes, erases and destroys it; it is also the science of its own history, of that of its founder, of the relation between private (or secret) documents and the elaboration of its theory and of everything which, in a subterranean manner, can enlighten its appearance in the world.

One finds the principle of the so-called “originary” delay and the notions of “imprint, pre-impression and of pre-inscription” again in the thought of desistance, which, since Derrida, I consider to be a central concept for psychoanalysis. Indeed “something began before me, the one who undergoes the experience.  I’m late.  If I insist upon remaining the subject of this experience, it would have to be as a prescribed, pre-inscribed subject, marked in advance by the imprint of the ineluctable that constitutes this subject without belonging to it.”[8]  It is thus a matter of a constitutive desistance of the subject which destines the demand for meaning or for truth to the question of its own finality. Desistance redoubles or disinstalls everything which secures reason, without however falling into unreason “against which Platonic onto-ideology, or even Heidegger’s interpretation of it, is established” (D, p. 24). The logic proper to desistance leads to the destabilization of the subject, to its disidentification from every position in estance, from all determinations of the subject by the ego. This does not mean that the subject “desists itself” (“to desist” does not allow a reflexive construction in English which it requires in French) but rather that it desists without “desisting itself.” For Derrida, the thought of desistance is one of the most demanding thought of responsibility.

To think responsibility on the basis of the desistance of the subject from all determinations arising from the identifications which constitute their mask, is also to think responsibility from the unconscious, which ignores the difference between the virtual and the actual, between intention and action. It is to extend responsibility—that to which the subject must answer—well beyond the data of consciousness, to which Right and Morals usually refer. It is to open the field of the subject’s responsibility to what preceding generations bequeath us and to what is transmitted by a transgenerational memory. It is also to render the ethical act of nomination ineluctable[9].

While maintaining a possible recourse to the archive, to what is idiomatically inscribed inside or outside us, to what is both offered and subtracted from translation, psychoanalysis always attempts to come back to the live origin of the traces which the archive loses by keeping them in a multiplicity of places. There would be no drive [poussée] to preservation without, in the opposite direction, a drive to destruction, which itself belongs to the process of archivization. And if the authority of the principle which renews the law of the archive, its institution, its domiciliation is deconstructed by Freud, a patriarchal logic, also entirely Freudian, renews it institutionalizing strategy. For Derrida, “The possibility of the archiving trace, this simple possibility, can only divide the uniqueness. Separating the impression from the imprint] (AF, p. 100). One of the lessons Derrida draws from Freud, and it is not the least important one, is that “contradiction . . . modulates and conditions the very formation of the concept of the archive and of the concept in general –tight where they bear the contradiction” (Ibid., p. 90). Psychoanalytic language no longer understands the Unconscious from the standpoint of experience, of meaning and of presence, as Husserl did, but conceives of the Unconscious by removing it from what it makes possible, and by giving access “to what conditions the phenomenality of proceeding from an a-semantic instance.”[10] Translation henceforth operates within the same language by de-signifying and re-signifying concepts. For psychoanalysis this means: its “own” concepts, indeed the proper names which mark its history.

In his reading of Beyond the Pleasure Principle[11], Derrida indicates in what way “Freud advanced only by suspending, without any possibility of stopping, all the theses at which his successors or heirs, his readers in general, would have liked to see him stop. That reading was also an interpretation of what links speculation on the name, the proper name, or family names to science, particularly to the theory and the institution of psychoanalysis.”[12]  That is to say, of what links the speculative to the specular, to the mirror which reflects the scene which the text describes. This reading will have left a strong impression on Derrida:

I wish to speak of the impression left by Freud, by the event which carries this family name, the nearly unforgettable and incontestable, undeniable impression (even and above all for those who deny it) that Sigmund Freud will have made on anyone, after him, who speaks of him or speaks to him, and who must then, accepting it or not, knowing it or not, be thus marked: in his or her culture and discipline, whatever it may be, in particular philosophy, medicine, psychiatry, and more precisely here, because we are speaking of memory and of archive, the history of texts and of discourses, political history, legal history, the history of ideas or of culture, the history of religion and religion itself, the history of the institutional and scientific project called psychoanalysis. Not to mention the history of history, the history of historiography. In any given discipline, one can no longer, one should no longer be able to, thus one no longer has the right of the means to claim to speak of this without having been marked in advance, in one way or another, by this Freudian impression. It is impossible and illegitimate to do so without having integrated, well or badly, in an important way or not, recognizing it or denying it, what is here called the Freudian impression. If one is under the impression that it is possible not to take this into account, forgetting it, effacing it, crossing it out, or objecting to it, one has already confirmed, we could even say countersigned (thus archived), a “repression” or a “suppression” (AF, p. 31).

In no way does Derridean deconstruction repress the Freudian inheritance. By an hyperanalytical necessity, it prolongs it by calling into question the desire or the fantasy of rejoining the originary, the irreducible, the indivisible. Concurrent with the two motifs of any analysis, the archeological motif of the return to the old, which governs repetition and its alteration, and the philolytic motif of the disassociative unbinding, of the decomposition of unities, of the deconstitution of sediments, deconstruction maintains the analytic exigency of the always possible unbinding as the very condition of possibility of binding in general:

What is called “deconstruction” undeniably obeys an analytic exigency, at once critical and analytic. . . . The question of divisibility is one of the most powerful instruments of formalization for what is called deconstruction. If, in an absurd hypothesis, there were one and only one deconstruction, a sole thesis of “Deconstruction,” it would pose divisibility: differance as divisibility.[13]

We are here touching upon the heart of the theoretical disagreement between Derrida and Lacan, the consequences of which for the psychoanalytic practice, theory and institution I shall briefly indicate[14].  This field is hardly explored and is one against which psychoanalyst still strongly resists. Let us recall that the analytic supplement [supplément d’analyse] required by “deconstruction” does not go without a certain emphatic homage to Lacan, of which I quote only an extract:

Whether one is talking about philosophy, psychoanalysis, or theory in general, what the flat-footed restoration underway attempts to recover, disavow, or censor is the fact that nothing of that which managed to transform the space of thought in the last decades would have been possible without some coming to terms with Lacan, without the Lacanian provocation, however one receives it or discusses it.[15]


  1. Psychoanalysis with Derrida

In the second part of this essay, I shall attempt to show how several clinical, theoretical, and institutional aspects of psychoanalysis can be reconsidered, revised and modified by Derrida’s reading of some major psychoanalytic texts, such as Jacques Lacan’s seminar on Edgar Allen Poe’s The Purloined Letter. When transposed onto Lacan’s other texts, that is, onto the development of the psychoanalytic corpus, these deconstructive readings put into question fundamental psychoanalytic concepts, such as, for example, transference and the place of the analyst in interpretation, the function of the signifier and of the letter, their destination and their “destinerrance” (their wandering destination), the status of truth and of the effects of truth, etc. Such a rereading has implications for the practice and the theory of psychoanalysis, as well as for the history of the psychoanalytic movement. The analogies that are woven between the development of a theory and that of the socio-institutional context of psychoanalysis shall be evident. All this adds a new dimension to psychoanalytic thought, which can henceforth be called “desistential.” In the same way as Derrida is unthinkable without psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis has become unthinkable without Derrida. That is not to say that there is such a thing as “Derridean psychoanalysis,” as some people either think or fear. Psychoanalysis is at the frontier of all research (literary, philosophical, but also biological, genetic, etc.). It recognizes its numerous debts, but it does not need to be marked by a proper name, even if the function of the proper name occupies a central place in it.

Since the 1960’s, then, Derrida has interrogated numerous motifs governing both psychoanalytic and philosophical discourses. These motifs, to mention but only a few, are called phonocentrism, logocentrism, phallocentrism, “full speech” as truth, the transcendentalism of the signifier, the circular return of the letter missing from its “proper” place (I shall come back to this), the neutralising exclusion of the narrator from the scene of the narrative, etc. Now, these motifs are also those, which, at the same time, confidently construct Lacan’s theoretical, clinical and institutional movement of a “return to Freud,” which is as powerfully articulated as it is dogmatically asserted. These motifs are indeed found in the Ecrits (1966) and, exemplarily, in the opening text of this collection, which plays an organizing role independently from the date of its publication and that of the articles included in the collection[16].  This text, “The Seminar on The Purloined Letter” provides a reading of Edgar Poe’s tale The Purloined Letter, on the basis of the Freudian notion of “repetition automatism” which, for Lacan who finds support in Saussurean linguistics, becomes “the insistence of the signifying chain.” Hence, Lacan’s aphorism which concludes his commentary: “Thus it is that what the ‘purloined letter,’ nay, the ‘letter in sufferance,’ means is that a letter always arrives at its destination” (Seminar, p.53). This conclusion is possible only in so far as the letter, which is for Lacan the place of the materiality of the signifier, cannot be divided. Now, this “indivisibility” of the letter corresponds, according to Derrida, to the ideal identity of the letter, to its “idealization,” to which one can always object that a letter is divisible, can arrive or not at destination. This affects the logic of the event, the thought of singularity, the dissemination of the unique beyond the logic of castration, etc.

In order to limit my development, I shall concentrate here on how the neutralizing exclusion of the narrator in Lacan’s reading of Poe’s tale, which is echoed in the exclusion of the interpreter in “The Direction of the Treatment and the Principle of its Power” (a contemporary text to the Seminar which is formalized according to the same model), brings about an identification to one of the protagonists of the scene[17].  We shall see that this identification acts as a resistance to the desistance of the subject which alone is likely to situate the interpretation outside the scene where it can otherwise only but be expected and agreed upon by the analysand and the analyst. In this way, we shall see that what closes such a reading of Poe’s tale by locking it up, is nothing less than a historical scene, contemporary to the writing of the Seminar and “The Direction of the Treatment,” which evades this very reading.

In order to follow these developments, let us recall Poe’s The Purloined Letter. Two scenes generally leave the reader with a vivid memory of them. The first is played out in the royal boudoir in the presence of the Queen and the King.  The Queen has received a compromising letter which she conceals from the eyes of the King through a simple gesture of turning it over on the table.  Enters minister D___, who perceives the discomfort of the Queen and who, while he keeps up chatter about affairs of State, takes a similar letter out of his pocket and makes as if to read it before letting it fall onto the desk. All he then has to do, while continuing the conversation, is to pick up not his own letter, but the other, while the Queen is watching, prevented from stepping in so as not to attract attention of the King right alongside her. The second scene takes place in the minister’s study. While there on his first visit, the lynx eye of Dupin is drawn to a ticket which seems to have been abandoned in a card-rack hanging under the mantelpiece. From that moment on, his mind is made up. He deliberately leaves behind his snuff-box so he can return the next day to retrieve it. Armed in his turn with a counterfeit and having set up a street incident to bring the minister to the window at the right moment, Dupin, like the minister in the first scene, substitutes one letter for the other before taking leave of his host in the normal way.

In the Seminar, these two scenes are designated as two primal scenes, the second one being the repetition of the first. But Derrida reminds us that the two triangular scenes that Lacan discusses are narrated within the totality of the narrative structure. The scene which takes place in the royal apartments is recounted by the Prefect when he visits Dupin in the presence of the narrator and the second by Dupin, telling the narrator after the Prefect’s departure. Several consequences follow from the exclusion, not to say the foreclusion, of the narrator in Lacan’s reading, notably—as far as what interests me here is concerned—that of bringing about the identification of the analyst with Dupin’s position. The place proper to the letter in sufferance (and of the being in sufferance) is the one where Dupin and the psychoanalyst expect to find them: “In which respect Dupin shows himself quite the equal of the psychoanalyst when it comes to success”. Or else, “do we not in fact feel concerned with good reason when for Dupin what is perhaps at stake is his withdrawal from the symbolic circuit of the letter—we who become the emissaries of all the purloined letters which at least for a time remain in sufferance with us in transference”[18]. But why should the analyst just as well not identify himself with the narrator, who occupies the much more neutral position of hearing the narrative, for Dupin has a revenge to take on the Minister? Why should he not identify with the Prefect? Another reading can easily show that, by going to Dupin, the Prefect knew that the letter was already there or, if it were to be found, could not but be found there, since for him, to search the honorable detective or to exert any kind of pressure in the presence of the narrator is of course out of the question. He could only intimate that he was ready to pay the price for it. The same could be said of the Minister D___, Dupin’s brother. It is not the fact that the letter has been left exposed, as one pretends to believe, which makes it the best hiding place for the good sleuth. The Minister has left clues which might be indecipherable for anyone else other than Dupin. One knows that the stolen letter bears the Duc de S.’s seal, which is small and red, and that the writing of the superscription addressed to the Queen is bold and masculine. Now, the writing on the letter Dupin notices at the Minister is tiny and feminine, the seal large and black and marked with the cipher D. A woman, whom Dupin cannot but know and who owns the Minister’s seal, will thus have lent her support to the returning of the letter, of the same one, by invaginating it like a glove in order to divide it [la rendre double], to make it bear inverted signs on the inside and on the outside. Why should the reader, the interpreter, the analyst not still identify with the Queen, to whom the letter ends up by returning, whom, by the letter reaches, by erasing itself ?

Why should the analyst, if one really insists on retaining the analogy, not traverse the chain of identifications with each of the protagonists of the scene, who, in their turn, by escaping each of these identifications, will have been emissaries of the letter; by putting himself, without desisting himself, in desistance from the one or the other, from the one and the other, as far as it is possible to do the impossible? For the identification always has an end, a telos. Here, through the identification of the analyst with Dupin, the Seminar aims to make Poe’s letter—its decipherment—return to Lacan, by dethroning Marie Bonaparte’s too hermeneutical interpretation, which Lacan nevertheless partly takes up again on his own account. The Seminar also aims to make Freud’s very letter return to the same Lacan, that is, Freud’s letter, which prefaces the Princess’s book devoted to Poe, but also, by establishing the insistence of the signifying chain, the letter of the repetition automatism, the letter, then, of the resistance of the unconscious to the unconscious, which, beyond pleasure, governs the most determining effects for the subject

Poe’s tale which, together with The Murders in the Rue Morgue and The Mystery of Marie Rogêt, makes up a sort of trilogy, does not only authorize a series of abyssal readings [lectures en abyme], none of which can dominate the others, or allow an analogical reading with the unfolding of an analysis, but it also stages characters which are closely related with events of real life that are taking place at the time of their writing. Can one find analogies with such a model in Lacan’s Seminar? If such were the case, Lacan’s identification with the analyst Dupin would be overdetermined. The author of the Seminar tells us that “Dupin, from the place he now occupies, cannot help feeling a rage manifestly feminine” (p.51). A curious remark that is echoed in the “explosion of feeling” which the author shows towards a lady who remains unknown in the Seminar. She emerges on the occasion of Baudelaire’s inexact translation, pointed out by the Princess, concerning the place where the letter exactly lies: Baudelaire indeed erroneously translates “just beneath the middle of the mantelpiece” into “above the mantelpiece” (p.47). This question is of considerable importance if one expects the place where the phallus-letter is supposedly missing from its place to be precisely indicated: between the cheeks [jambages] of the fireplace. But, visibly yielding to anger, the author states that this question “may be abandoned to the inferences of those whose profession is grilling” and even adds in note, “and even to the cook herself” (p. 47).

This scene of writing made of Marie Bonaparte in the Seminar is duplicated in “The Direction of the Treatment” in another scene made of Sacha Nacht (Lacan’s rival in the 1953’s institutional fights) concerning the latter’s work entitled La Psychanalyse d’aujourd’hui. It might be useful to recall, in passing, that in this work, the identification of the analysand with the analyst is promoted as the criterion of the end of analysis. Here is an “intersubjective triad”—a triad comparable to the one formed by the Queen, the Minister and Dupin—terribly heated by a circulation of letters, by broken alliances and by an institutional scission. A letter dated 14 July 1953 from Lacan to Loewenstein (who was both Lacan and Nacht’s analyst, and Princess Bonaparte’s friend) enlightens, two years before the Seminar, the historical scene of legacy at issue, still the scene of the inherited letter, of the very letter of the inheritance. After having painted a picture of the state of play of psychoanalysis in France to Loewenstein, who is exiled in the United-States and has now become influential within the IPA (International Psychoanalytic Association), Lacan turns to the analysis of motivations. Let us follow the insistence of the signifying chain and the logic of the quart exclu: “To give you an analysis of what impels things, I must do justice to Nacht in conceding that he has neither vacillated nor flagged in the pursuit of his scheme [dessein].[19]” Dessein is the message-word, taken from the citation from Crébillon: “Un dessein si funeste / S’il n’est digne d’Atrée, est digne de Thyeste” [So baleful a plan, / If unworthy of Atreus, is worthy of Thyestes][20] which Dupin leaves as a signature on the substitute letter left to the Minister. It is also the slip object-word that Lacan transforms into destiny [destin] when he quotes “Un destin si funeste,” two times out of three. The design which Lacan attributes to Nacht is worthy of Thyeste and of the Minister, for “if he has grouped around him the majority of our old colleagues, it is due to a constancy in his policy which would be worthy of respect if it had not been the result of equally unchanging but implacably unscrupulous methods” (LS). For Lacan, Nacht is thus an “unprincipled man,” as it is said of the Minister. But, as the Minister for Dupin, he is also a brother: “My wife made him welcome and, in the house of my brother-in-law, Masson the painter, he was received with a hospitality that made him possible for him to remarry in the cordial atmosphere of a small Provençal village” (Ibid.). And further on: “My confidence in him, it must be said, was rock solid. . .” (Ibid.). This was still before the explosion of their friendly ferocity. A lady, and not just anyone, the legatee of the Freudian letter, is at the heart of their falling out:

Unfortunately for us, opposition took root in an unstable situation. Nacht, sure of his success, thought he could rid himself of the Princess: he dismissed her from our Counsels by refusing to welcome her. To be sure, it is reasonable to consider the actions of this person to have always been inauspicious in our group. The social prestige she brought with her can only warp relations there, the prestige she gains from her closeness to Freud means she is listened to with a patience which passes for approval, the respect one must show for an old lady requires a tolerance for her opinions which demoralizes the younger ones, in whose eyes we appear to be in a ridiculous position of subjection[21].

Nonetheless, the Princess still remains Lacan’s ally: “The help of the Princess, whose character you are well acquainted with, has brought matters to a head but has, I am sorry to say, served to crystallize a cell around Nacht. . .” [my emphasis] (Ibid.). And then, with the entrance of the lady from Vienna: “I was the extremely unwilling witness of the Princess’s astounding telephone calls to Anna Freud, in which she described our adversaries as gangsters. . .” (Ibid.). Then came the switching of alliances that followed Lacan’s drawing up of the principles on which an Institute of Psychoanalysis should be run:

Simply failing to mention both the Princess and her honorary functions was sufficient to decide everything. In a meeting that she had asked for . . ., she concluded a treaty with Nacht whose terms were only revealed by what then happened: the secret pact [my emphasis] was, after four months, to be sealed by a session uniquely devoted to giving the Princess the prize for her good and loyal services [my emphasis][22].

In connection with this, one should reread an enigmatic passage from the Seminar held two years later: “It is here that the origin of that horror betrays itself, and he who experiences it has no need to declare himself (in a most unexpected manner) ‘a partisan of the lady’ in order to reveal it to us: it is known that ladies detest calling principles into question, for their charms owe much to the mystery of the signifier.” The letter, let us recall, is the materiality of the signifier. The final lines of Lacan’s letter reveal a man confronted with despicable schemes, confident about the contribution he thinks he is currently making to the conception of analytic experience. The word destiny flows naturally from his pen: “Whatever happens, you should know that you will encounter here a man more convinced of his duties and his destiny” (LS).

The analogy between the events of real life, a sequence of unfathomable readings and a theory of the “analytic cure” is perhaps most “analogous” with the writing of Edgar Poe. “There are ideal series of events which run parallel with the real ones” reads the inscription at the beginning of The Mystery of Marie Rogêt[23].  This citation from Novalis adds that these events “rarely coincide,” but the narrator goes out of his way to emphasize the coincidences : “The extraordinary details which I am now called upon to make public, will be found to form, as regards sequence of time, the primary branch of a series of scarcely intelligible coincidences [Poe’s emphasis]. . .” (The Mystery, p. 143). And The Murders of the Rue Morgue suggests, for anyone interested in enigmas, rebus and in hieroglyphs, to reduce the totality of pieces down to four kings, each of the pieces having their double, just like Dupin, the narrator and the reader redouble themselves, and just as the letter, which circulates with its interior and exterior faces.

In the example that follows, which is even more closely related to analytic practice, it is once more the identification with one of the protagonists in a scene of inheritance of thought that reveals the blind spot of the interpretation or the fixation to a demand for meaning.

In “The Direction of the Treatment”, Lacan takes up again from Ernst Kris, one of the analysts of the famous troïka—Hartman, Kris and Loewenstein—whose names remain attached to Ego Psychology, the example called The Man with the Cold Brains. At issue is an American academic who cannot publish his research because he believes that he is guilty of plagiarism. His analyst, who aims to link the resistances to the analysis of defenses, seizes the opportunity of a work that the patient has just completed, concerning which the latter claims that he repeats in it the ideas found in someone else’s work, to assess the situation. The analyst discovers that the patient has apparently done nothing more than is normal practice in the field, indeed that it is him alone, the patient, who accuses the author of having said what he wants to say and even, that it is the imminent colleague who might in fact have repeatedly taken over his ideas. In brief, since the situation is reversed through reality-testing, the patient, after analytic sessions, begins to wander along in the neighboring streets in order to scrutinize restaurant menus in search of his favorite dish: cold brains. The so-called reality-testing will only have displaced the compulsion by making it look on the side of the brain of the analyst: “It’s not that your patient doesn’t steal that is important here. It’s that . . . steals nothing.”[24]  This pertinent remark does not, however, wear down the point where something [ça] resists and which has once again something to do with identification. This time, it has something to do with the identification of “Dupin’s equal,” not with the patient believing himself to be a plagiarist, or with his reluctantly behaviorist analyst, but with the real or imaginary plagiarized. A note from Lacan cannot help but say it: “In the United States, where Kris has achieved success, publication makes news and teaching like mine should stake its claim to priority each week against the pillage that it cannot fail to attract” (Ibid., p. 280).

The impression of strange familiarity uneasily bears the division [partition] of the same and the effects of the double, and more precisely, of the uncanny inherent to the Bewusstsein (being known for having always been “already seen” [déjà vu]) and to consciousness taking itself for the object of its own [propre] “reflection.” For Freud, the phenomenon of consciousness lies in the doubling of an agency by itself: “But it is only this latter, material, offensive as it is to the criticism of the ego, which may be incorporated in the idea of a double. There are also all the unfulfilled but possible futures . . . , and all our suppressed acts of volition which nourish in us the illusion of Free Will.”[25]  The experience of an exterior gaze on the so-called “self,” which is redoubled through its passage to the “inside,” implies the desistance of this gaze from the object which lends it assistance. This experience frightens reason, it is its risk and its chance. Its risk, for the meeting with the double, this double, which the subject calls to daylight, always confronts one to the other as wholly other and to one’s death. It is its chance of not being liberated by anyone else but “oneself”[26] and of dying of one’s own death.

Lacan has not failed to represent to himself, on the most spectral mode, such an experience. It should attract, as an hypothesis, an hypothesis of the school, the attention of the “candidates in training”:

Let us imagine what would take place in a patient who saw in his analyst an exact replica of himself. Everyone feels that the excess of aggressive tension would set up such an obstacle to the manifestation of the transference that its useful effect could only be brought about extremely slowly, and this is what sometimes happens in the analysis of prospective analysts. To take an extreme case, experienced in the form of strangeness proper to the apprehensions of the double, this situation would set up an uncontrollable anxiety on the part of the analysand[27].

The problematic of the double goes hand in hand with the division of the letter. It is in this respect that it prevents one from conceiving of a circular trajectory from send-off to destination. If the trajectory is possible it is nevertheless not guaranteed. Indeed, the double—notably in the analytic transference—redoubles the circuit of the letter from the start. The send-off is split [dédoublé] and turned back—to the starting point—and the divided letters, crisscrossing in their trajectories, constantly intercept each other’s messages. This is also what takes any demand for meaning back to its own finality.

These few indications aimed to draw attention to the impact of Derridean deconstruction on the analytic practice, theory and institution. Derridean deconstruction, which is not identifiable with any system, pursues indefinitely, or hyperanalytically, the analysis of the effects of the assignation of a place, of the subjection to a thought and of the fixation to the imaginary properties of a proper name.



[1] In print in a collective volume A comparison to Derrida at Cambridge University Press.

[2] Jacques Derrida, “Let us not Forget—Psychoanalysis,” The Oxford Literary Review 12, no. 1-2, Psychoanalysis and Literature, 1990, pp. 3-4. This citation is taken from my introduction to the paper “Reason From the Unconscious,” which I delivered on 16 December 1988 at the Sorbonne in Paris, on the occasion of the Forum “Thinking at Present” organized by the Collège international de Philosophie.


[3] I here follow closely Geoffrey Bennington’s remarks in his paper entitled “Circanalyse (La chose même)” delivered at the Colloque de Cerisy in July 1996 (forthcoming Paris: Aubier).


[4] Jacques Derrida, “Freud and the Scene of Writing” in Writing and Difference, with an Introduction and Additional Notes by Alan Bass (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1978), p. 212. Henceforth abbreviated in the text as FSW.


[5] See Sigmund Freud, Moses and Monotheism, Three EssaysSE, XXIII, (London: The Hogarth Press and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1958), pp. 129-130.


[6] SE, XIII, pp. 176-7.

[7] Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever, A Freudian Impression, tr. by E. Prenowitz (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1995), p. 32. Henceforth abbreviated as AF.

[8] “Desistance” in Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe, Typography, Mimesis, Philosophy, Politics (Cambridge [Massachusetts], London [England]: Harvard University Press, 1989), p. 2. “Desistance” (henceforth abbreviated as D) is the introduction to an English collection of essays by Philippe Lacoue-Labarthe who uses recurrently the verb désister and the substantive désistement.  Derrida’s essay begins by addressing the problems of translation which these terms are bound to raise, in particular as far as in its juridical sense, the verb désister requires the reflexive construction [se désister] which does not exist in English.  In his discussion—destined for an English readership—of Lacoue-Labarthe’s concepts of désistement and of désister, Derrida introduces the term “désistance,” but warns that it cannot be translated without further precautions as “desistance.”  For an elaboration of the divergent and “very different syntactic possibilities” of “desistance” and “désistance,” see “Desistance”, cit., pp. 1-5.  In this translation, désistance is translated as desistance.  The italics should suffice to signal that precautions must be taken around this term.

[9] In “Géopsychanalyse” (in Psychéop. cit.), Derrida elaborates on the way in which the psychoanalytic institution has been able to archivize the unnamable and how psychoanalysis could contribute to another thought of the ethical, the juridical and the political.

[10] Jacques Derrida, “Me-Psychoanalysis: An Introduction to the Translation of ‘The Shell and the Kernel’ by Nicolas Abraham”, tr. by Richard Klein, Diacritics (1979), p. 7.

[11] Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, tr. with an Introduction and Additional Notes by Alan Bass (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1987).

[12] J. Derrida, “For the Love of Lacan” in Resistances of Psychoanalysis, tr. by Peggy Kamuf, Pascale-Anne Brault, Michael Naas (Stanford California: Stanford University Press, 1998), p. 41; in Journal of European Psychoanalysis, n. 2, 1995-1996.

[13] “Resistances” in Resistances of Psychoanalysis, op. cit. pp. 27-33.

[14] I shall return later, without being able to develop them at length, to certain theses elaborated in my Derrida avec Lacan: Analyse désistentielle (Paris: Éd. Mentha, 1991).

[15] “For the Love of Lacan”, op. cit., p. 46.

[16] Jacques Lacan, “Seminar on The Purloined Letter,” tr. by Jeffrey Mehlman in J. P. Muller and William J. Richardson, eds., The Purloined Poe, Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading (Baltimore and London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1988), pp. 28-54.  See also Lacan, The Seminar, Book II: The Ego in Freud’s Theory and in Psychoanalytic Technique, 1954-55, tr. Sylvana Tomaselli, with notes by John Forrester (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

[17] For a more detailed and meticulous analysis, I refer the reader to “La Parabole de la lettre” in Lacan avec Derrida, op.cit., partially translated by John Forrester as “The Parable of The Purloined Letter”, Stanford Literature Review (Spring-Fall 1991), pp. 67-102.  For Derrida’s reading of Lacan’s “Seminar on ‘The Purloined Letter,'” see “Le Facteur de la vérité” in The Post Card, op. cit..

[18] Lacan, Seminar, op.cit., p.48.


[19] La Scission de 1953. Documents edited by Jacques-Alain Miller, Ornicar?, 1976, pp. 120-132.  Henceforth abbreviated as LS. Translated by John Forrester in René Major “The Parable of the Purloined Letter,” op. cit.

[20] Theodore O. Mabbot, “Text of ‘The Purloined Letter’ with Notes” in The Purloined Poeop.cit., p. 27.

[21] Ibid.


[22] Ibid.


[23] Edgar Allan Poe, Selected Tales (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), p. 142.

[24] The Direction of the Treatment and the Principle of its Power” in Ecrits, A Selection, tr. by Alan Sheridan (London: Tavistock Publications, 1977), p. 239.


[25] “The Uncanny”, SE, XVII, p. 236.

[26] Allusion to one of La Rochefoucauld’s sentences concerning l’amour-propre.


[27] Jacques Lacan, “Aggressivity in Psychoanalysis” in Ecrits, A Selection, op cit.

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